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The Online Encyclopedia of Wyoming History

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The Oil Business in Wyoming

Oil seeps were reported often in the early 19th century in what later became Wyoming; it was sold, for example to Oregon Trail travelers for wagon lubricant. The first producing well in Wyoming Territory was drilled in 1883 at Dallas Dome southeast Lander. Perhaps the state’s best-known historic oil producing region is the Salt Creek Field, north of Casper, which was one of the world’s largest-producing fields in the 1920s. Oil remains an important part of Wyoming’s economy and culture today, and the state is ranked high among the top national producers.

South Pass Gold Rush

Discovery of gold near South Pass in the 1860s led to the creation and settlement of short-lived South Pass City, Wyo. and other settlements nearby. The Carissa Mine was one of the richest, but between 1867 and 1869, 1500 lodes were located during the rush, and as many as 2,000 miners and others may have lived in the little town or on their claims. By the early 1870s, only a few hundred were left. Sporadic gold production has continued since, however, with systematic prospecting by an American subsidiary of a Canadian firm permitted as recently as 2006.

The Teapot Dome Scandal

Although the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s was named for a Wyoming rock formation resembling a teapot, the wrongdoers were not from the state. During the administration of President Warren G. Harding, oilmen Harry Sinclair and Edward Doheny bribed Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall to gain access to the naval petroleum reserves located at Teapot Dome in the Salt Creek field north of Casper in northern Natrona County. Fall was the first Cabinet official to be imprisoned for crimes committed during his time in office. Sinclair also served a jail sentence.

Toomey’s Mills

Toomey’s Mills in Newcastle, Wyo., began operations as Newcastle Milling Company and Electrical Light Plant in 1905, producing flour by day and generating electricity at night. In 1919, D. J. Toomey purchased the business and it remained in the family until 1965. In 1974, new owners converted it into a restaurant, the Old Mill Inn. In 1995, current owners, Doug and Larita Brown bought the property, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, in 1995.

South Pass City

South Pass City, a gold mining town founded near South Pass in 1867, reached its pinnacle soon after a valuable strike was made in 1868 at the Carissa Mine. The town is also famous as the birthplace of women’s suffrage, because the 1869 bill making Wyoming Territory the first government in the world to guarantee women the right to vote was introduced by South Pass City’s representative, William H. Bright. Esther Hobart Morris, appointed South Pass City justice of the peace soon afterward, became the first woman in the nation to hold public office. The town, with many original buildings carefully restored, is operated as a state historic site.

The Fur Trade in Wyoming

In the 1820s and 1830s, what’s now western Wyoming was at the center of the fur trade of the northern Rocky Mountains. Indians, trappers and their suppliers met each summer at a big trade fair called rendezvous, where trappers exchanged their season’s beaver pelts for hardware, whiskey and supplies. By 1840, demand for beaver had disappeared and the species had been nearly rubbed out. But the rendezvous supply routes were already becoming the trails that would bind the nation together.

Casper, Wyoming

Though the site was an important river crossing on the early frontier, the town of Casper did not begin until 1888, when the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad reached the area. The town immediately became an important shipping point for cattle and wool. The first oil refinery was built in 1895 to process crude oil from the Salt Creek Oil Field, 40 miles to the north. The first true oil boom began after 1910 and lasted through the mid 1920s, and the town’s fortunes have been closely connected to the energy business ever since. In 2010 the city’s population passed 55,000. Casper continues as a retail, medical and energy-industry service hub.

Piedmont Charcoal Kilns

The Piedmont Charcoal Kilns southwest of Evanston, Wyo. were built in 1869 to supply charcoal primarily to Utah mining and smelting operations. The town of Piedmont’s location—on the Union Pacific Railroad but near a ready timber supply in the Uinta Mountains—made it a logical spot for the industry. Most of the charcoal was shipped to the Salt Lake valley, and some to Fort Bridger for use in blacksmith forges and heating stoves. Piedmont was a railroad station on the Union Pacific line. Three of the original five kilns remain standing. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Encyclopedia | Prospectors first struck oil in the Salt Creek Oil Field in northern Natrona County, Wyo. late in the 1880s. The first gusher came in in 1908. The subsequent boom lasted until the late 1920s, peaking in 1923, when the field produced more than 35 million barrels of oil. Tom Wall, who went to work in the field in 1917, stayed for decades and in the 1970s wrote out his memories of life in the oil patch through boom and bust. After 125 years and thanks to new technologies, the Salt Creek Field continues to produce today.
Encyclopedia | Construction of Buffalo Bill Dam, completed in 1910 six miles west of Cody, Wyoming, was the key that opened about 90,000 acres in northwestern Wyoming to irrigated farming. Its construction was slowed by engineering difficulties and labor strife, but when it was finished stood as an engineering marvel, one of the first concrete arch dams built in the United States and the tallest dam in the world at the time.
Encyclopedia | Called Camp le Grand by trappers and fur traders who held rendezvous in the 1830s, the scenic place at the base of the Sierra Madre Mountains eventually became known as Encampment. Rich copper deposits brought miners, promoters and others who hoped the town would become a western industrial stronghold. That didn’t happen, but today, visitors and locals gather here for numerous festivals held throughout the year that celebrate the town’s heritage.
Encyclopedia | Guernsey Dam on the North Platte River lies between historic Fort Laramie and Laramie peak and just a few miles from some deep, sandstone ruts on the historic Oregon Trail. The dam was completed in 1927, for hydropower and flood control. In 1934, crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps located camps near the reservoir. With design help from the National Park Service, they built the handsome stone-and-timber shelters and buildings at Guernsey State Park, in what became a showplace of state park design.
Encyclopedia | Seminoe and Kortes dams, both located in a remote stretch of northern Carbon County, Wyo., were constructed in the 1930s and 1940s primarily for the production of hydropower. While power plants at both dams still generate electricity, the area is frequented by tourists, especially fishermen who travel to the renowned Miracle Mile, just downstream from Kortes Dam, to catch trout.
Encyclopedia | The story of uranium in Wyoming is a high-stakes drama whose cast includes fever-driven prospectors, ranchers defending their property rights, government officials intent on national security, entrepreneurs, engineers and world-class mining companies.
Encyclopedia | In 1869, explorer John Wesley Powell named the red-walled canyon on the Green River in Wyoming Territory “Flaming Gorge.” The Flaming Gorge Dam, completed in 1964, helps regulate water flows and its power plant generates electricity. The dam is located in Utah, but the reservoir stretches north into Wyoming near the town of Green River. In 1968, the U.S. Congress created the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, which is located in the states of Utah and Wyoming and draws visitors from around the world.
Encyclopedia | Accidents and disasters have plagued Wyoming coal mines since territorial times. In 1886, legislators created the office of the state mine inspector to help improve safety. Still, explosions and cave-ins killed hundreds of miners in the following decades. The worst accidents happened in Hanna in 1903 and near Kemmerer in 1923. Lawmakers continued to increase safety measures and eventually expanded the duties of the state mine inspector. Modern strip mining is far safer.

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